Good practice for online knowledge sharing

With the effects of climate change already being felt across the world, and disproportionately so by the most vulnerable, the need to ramp up progress is greater than ever. A huge amount has been and continues to be learned by a variety of actors and organisations embarking on adaptation activities. Nevertheless, many barriers remain to sharing and accessing information, and to taking action based upon this knowledge. Web-based platforms are helping to bridge these gaps, but much more can be done to increase the utility and impact of knowledge-sharing to achieve progress in adaptation.

weADAPT’s decade-long experience in this field, and its partnerships with multiple Knowledge Partners we have taught us – and continue to teach us – a thing or two about how we can use good knowledge management to support communities of research and practice.

A key insight from our experiences is that, to ensure knowledge-sharing platforms are aiding progress in sustainable development, and moving beyond theory to practice, they need to be designed to better meet the user needs of the communities they target.

We know that weADAPT users want to receive credible, high-quality information. We know they want fast and quick access to networks. We know they want materials that are easy to understand, and come in formats suitable for their needs.

Likewise we know that contributors to the weADAPT site want their work to gain visibility. They want to submit their work with minimal input of time. They want this work to be readily accessible well beyond project timescales.

weADAPT has a responsibility as a climate change adaptation knowledge broker to follow good practice principles in adaptation. This includes valuing and including diverse sources of knowledge. We want to ensure accessibility so that all can engage, benefit and contribute.

This has led us to formulate principles by which we operate and develop weADAPT. These principles are interconnected and evolving. They are based not only on our own insights, but also those of partners. To learn more about our principles click on the images below:

Discoverability & connectivity

Information and knowledge is only useful if users can find it. Content needs to be well connected, both within the platform and across the community

Content organisation using a clear and intuitive conceptual framework and providing high searchability is essential for ensuring users can find knowledge that is relevant to them.

Using keyword tagging facilitates searches by allowing content to be linked and clustered, while using semantic tagging allows additional related content to be suggested. Explicit links to other content provides key additional information.

Importantly, different platforms are developed with different remits and no platform can be all things to all users. One way forward is to better connect and link specialist platforms with global & community platforms using technology that supports Linked Open Data. This also mitigates knowledge fragmentation. This requires use of a common language and taxonomy to describe content, such as the Climate Tagger. This is something we are working on in the PLACARD project.

Accessibility & inclusivity

Platforms and their content need to be attainable and understandable for all potential users. This is particularly important for climate change adaptation, which requires an equitable, united and multidisciplinary approach

Uncomplicated language and language translations are key for supporting learning and enabling the engagement of diverse actors. Guidance and tutorials can also be instrumental in supporting different users to engage can also be beneficial.

Promoting equal access and equal standing of all users and organisations across the platform is crucial for ensuring everyone has a voice and can contribute to a shared knowledge base. In particular, valuing diverse knowledge and including diverse actors is essential for supporting interdisciplinary learning and multidisciplinary collaboration. Paywalls, in financial terms but also through enforcing registration and uses of specific software, can disrupt pathways to knowledge for certain actors and should be avoided.

Considered technical development and use of digital technology is crucial for ensuring users can engage on their preferred devices, using the level of connectivity (e.g. internet bandwidth) available to them.

Added value & credibility

Platforms need to provide added value and know what they want to achieve. Credibility is essential to this and for knowledge platforms this means ensuring content is trustworthy and knowledgeable / expert.

Platforms are valuable in that, well designed, they can support action, not just provide information. They can and should play an important convening and supporting role within a community of research and practice, and use their position to promote learning and drive discussion on key emerging topics.

Being effective in this role is dependent on having cultivated a sizeable and proactive network, building and maintaining relationships with users, partners and other knowledge brokers, and crucially, being seen as a credible entity. In weADAPT this is facilitated by working closely with knowledge partners and using expert peer-review to ensure content is high-quality.

Crucially, more progress can be made as a community if platforms collaborate with, support and amplify complementary platforms, and add value to existing content through increasing its accessibility, utility or visibility. It is especially important that platforms have a clear mission that is unique and avoids replication of existing services.

Relationships & networks

Building relationships with users and other knowledge brokers takes time but is crucial to gaining contributions, increasing outreach and visibility, and opening doors to collaborations.

Creating awareness of and gaining and maintaining contributions to the platform is essential to building a knowledge network. This  requires spending time and effort reaching out to existing and potential new users, and supporting and working with them to meet their needs as well as those of the wider community.

Successful platforms are underpinned by great relationships. Humility, time, effort, trust, recognition, mutual benefit and reciprocity helps to build ‘champions’ who actively support and promote the platform. ‘Champions’ can be both contributors and fellow knowledge brokers/platforms, and can play a significant role in building the platform’s network.

Interacting with, being responsive to and supporting users to formulate and contribute content is key to successful relationship building and can provide learning opportunities for all parties involved. While there is no substitute for face-to-face engagement, online communications software is making this easier.

Understanding user needs

Understanding and responding to user needs plays an essential role in designing, developing and managing an effective platform.

Understanding who the users are and their needs is essential for identifying areas for (and understanding the implications of) both content-based and technical improvements and opportunities to enhance user experience and platform utility. This includes improving accessibility and discoverability, but is also important for directing knowledge curation and identifying strategic partnerships which can support this.

Collecting user feedback can be challenging and time consuming, but is very valuable. Building relationships with users can help elucidate ‘impact’ stories related to the platform, which can add detail over and above analytics. Online surveys can provide feedback on specific areas, though these should be short, simple and quick to complete.

In addition to surveys and direct feedback, website analytics (user behaviour) can provide surprising and valuable insights for further developing the platform, and can often highlight unexpected results that may otherwise have been missed.

Learning, capacity building & peer-to-peer support

The platform should support learning, action and decision-making, not just provide information. Peer-to-peer interaction is essential for social learning, peer support and building networks and collaborations.

Focusing on lessons learned and critical reflection is key to promoting learning and improved practice, while providing guidance and linking to other learning opportunities helps users to build their own capacities. Concise overviews of extensive reports helps users quickly gauge what they can learn from reading full publications.

Providing spaces for dialogue and community support allows users to reflect on their own and other’s work and pose questions to their peers. While providing user profiles that connect to users’ content, roles and organisations allows users to find and connect with relevant peers, supporting users to develop their networks and explore collaboration opportunities.In addition to facilitating peer-to-peer support, by promoting and linking to guidance materials and e-learning resources, platforms can contribute significantly to capacity building. Meta-analysis of content can also provide important additional insights to help drive progress within the community, e.g. of thematic synergies and knowledge gaps.

Usefulness & usability

Usefulness of content and ease of use of the platform are key to attracting users and maintaining a large user base.

While most knowledge remains useful over time, providing up-to-date information is essential for supporting users to follow and progress good practice, coordinate activities, reduce replication and identify opportunities for collaboration.

Making content/knowledge easy to navigate and quick to digest – for example through visualisation (e.g. map-based interfaces), categorisation (e.g. themes) and summaries (e.g. key messages) – helps users quickly gather the knowledge they need. While providing multiple formats (e.g. infographics, videos) supports varied learning styles.

Making the platform intuitive and attractive to engage with supports its uptake and use and encourages new users. And, making content contribution quick and easy is important for encouraging user input.

Increasing visibility

Giving enhanced visibility to users and organisations is key to increasing knowledge sharing, but requires established networks.

Full attribution provides visibility for authors and organisations, ensuring they are recognised for their intellectual contributions and retain ownership of, and responsibility for, the content. Attribution, alongside efforts to maximise discoverability (e.g. keyword tagging and map-based interfaces) can also show who is working where and on what, enhancing users’ visibility to potential collaborators.

Outreach potential can be enhanced through using multiple channels based on user preferences (e.g. newsletters, social media), building reciprocative relationships with other actors and knowledge brokers (e.g. other platforms, champion social media users), utilising existing networks (e.g. email lists) and consistently sharing new and innovative knowledge.

Knowledge sharing ‘champions’ and knowledge brokers play a key role in driving contributions from their peers and organisations. Identifying, supporting and building relationships with these actors can fundamentally enhance contributions to the platform, and its visibility and outreach.

Longevity & legacy

In a world dominated by short-term projects and programmes, knowledge preservation is crucial. To do this, platforms must have longevity.

Preserving knowledge in a long-lived, well-connected database means that work and data can be easily found and built upon by later projects, and supports knowledge collation, coordination and synthesis, and reduces the potential for redundancy. By preserving knowledge we can also analyse and learn from how the topic area has developed over time. This requires platform longevity.

Platform longevity, whilst difficult to achieve, also iteratively contributes to network growth and credibility. It is also a key consideration for would-be contributors wanting to maximise the impact of their work.Sustained funding that is not project dependant is essential for maintaining a platform’s every-day functioning. Projects and innovative funding models that distribute costs and responsibilities are excellent ways of funding further development and ensuring benefits are shared amongst users and partners.

 

We constantly strive to put these principles into practice. For example, learning about and responding to user needs have always directed the development of the platform. This leads us to:

  • enhance attribution and content ownership across the site to ensure authors and organisations are appropriately accredited;
  • scale up our social media outreach to bring content to more potential users, and to provide visibility for contributors;
  • support peer-to-peer learning and dialogue by enabling commenting, and by building discussion forums;
  • further enhance our search functionality, including through facilitating multi-faceted searches and the eventual use of semantic tagging, which will enable the suggestion of additional relevant (not just related) content; and
  • update and improve background articles to provide a foundation for those new to climate change adaptation issues.

The past 10 years has been an educational and inspiring experience for those of us affiliated with weADAPT. While we have come a long way, we know that there is still work to do. We know there are many opportunities waiting to be explored!

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